It was an Inauguration Day like no other, as Democratic leaders upstaged Gov. Chris Christie by announcing agreement on a joint committee to investigate Bridgegate and other alleged abuses of power by his administration just minutes before his inauguration, then trekked over to the War Memorial to listen to Christie deliver a speech that made no mention of the crises that threaten to cripple his second term.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said with a shrug after Christie’s speech. “There’s no need to allude to it. Everybody in the world already knows what’s going on in the State of New Jersey.”
TV camera crews and national newspaper reporters clustered around Sweeney and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) for the latest news on the investigation and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allegations, ignoring Christie’s speech with its message of bipartisanship, low taxes, and small government. Whatever campaign theme Christie was trying to convey to Iowa or New Hampshire voters no longer mattered.
Just two weeks ago, Christie was running neck-and-neck with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential polls, planning a triumphal fundraising tour through Florida with Gov. Rick Scott, and preparing to celebrate his November reelection landslide with an Inaugural Gala on Ellis Island symbolically chosen to highlight his immigrant roots for the national media.
That was before emails showed that the order to shut down the George Washington Bridge lanes came out of the governor’s office, before Christie fired his deputy chief of staff and longtime campaign manager, before a legislative committee blanketed the governor’s office with subpoenas, and before the Hoboken mayor charged that Christie’s lieutenant governor had threatened to withhold Sandy aid if she did not approve a high-rise the governor wanted built.
Yesterday, after two weeks of nonstop media coverage of the Christie administration scandals, a Quinnipiac Poll showed Christie trailing Clinton, his presidential drive “stuck in traffic, sideswiped by Bridgegate”; a top Virginia Republican called for Christie to resign his chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association for the good of the party; and a major snowstorm forced cancellation of the Ellis Island festivities for a party in no mood to party.
Christie took the oath of office in a forceful voice, but in his Second Inaugural Address, he seemed less ebullient than usual and content to reflect on the accomplishments of his first term, rather than looking ahead to offer a bold vision for the second.
“We have endured the worst economic recession of our lifetimes and we have begun to triumph over it. We have confronted entrenched interests and their endless stream of money that have previously stood in the way of fiscal sanity for our state, and educational excellence for our children,” Christie declared, taking a shot at public employee unions and especially the New Jersey Education Association. “Together, we have pushed those interests back, and put our children’s future first."
“We have survived the worst natural disaster in our state’s history and worked together to restore, renew and rebuild the state we love,” he said, declaring that New Jersey has been “setting the tone for an entire nation” by putting aside political partisanship and by being “willing to play outside the red and blue boxes the media and pundits put us in.”
Christie reiterated his low-tax, small-government mantra: “I do not believe that New Jerseyans want a bigger, more expensive government that penalizes success and then gives the pittance left to a few in the name of income equity,” he said. “For those who prefer economic growth and opportunity to government redistribution and higher taxes, I say this: come to New Jersey. You will be welcome here.”
Christie did not use his Second Inaugural Address to call upon Democrats to fulfill his 2009 campaign promise to pass an income tax cut, as he did in his second and third State of the State addresses.
Christie’s Second Inaugural offered none of the concrete pledges to cut state spending, curb municipal government, and cut red tape that highlighted his First Inaugural, with its proclamation that “Change has arrived!”
There was none of the ambition of his first State of the State speech, where he vowed “It’s time to do the big things” -- a full overhaul of pensions and health benefits, tenure reform, and a five-year business tax cut.
His Second Inaugural Address paled even by comparison with last week’s State of the State speech, in which he called for a longer school day and a longer school year, a constitutional amendment to end bail for violent offenders, and a call for new public employee concessions to reduce the burgeoning pension payments that are eating up the state budget.